What is Fine Art Wedding Photography?
What is Fine Art Wedding Photography?
So the big one: What is art? I already feel bogged down just asking that. I can feel hackles being raised and I can sense shoulders being slumped. Because you could argue that art is anything a group ascribes the term art to, if a big enough consensus then forms around it to create a meaningful dialogue. Art can be a loose and amorphous term. But we’ve known that since Deschamps’ urinal. Some people still argue that art has to be about the skill of the great painter — but then you have to ask, within those terms, is a master forger the equal of the artist who created it? The question of what is art is a book and this blog is not going to attempt to be a book. Mostly because this blog has places to go and people to see and needs to go and grab a coffee pretty soon, too. What is art photography is even too big for this blog. So this post will be focusing on how wedding photography can be art.
Maybe I should start with what I want from art — and you can start from what you want from art. What I want from art is something that challenges and provokes. It doesn’t necessarily have to make us feel uncomfortable — and it can certainly entertain — but it has to pose questions, and to do that a photographic image has to be open ended, and perhaps ask more questions than it answers. Here we go back to a recurring theme in my work which is the role of fiction inside an image. By choosing this image for today’s Friday Photo I’m not saying that this and only this is art. I’m just saying that it functions as art in the terms that I conceive of it working within wedding photography. It’s awkward, it’s angular, it’s enigmatic. The central figure in this image is not even the bride. The bride is on the left bending down. The girl in the centre is a bridesmaid. Because the moment is where you find it, the story is just where it appears in lucky proximity to your camera. For me a lot of where wedding photography goes wrong is to by calling pretty pictures of the bride and groom art. And here we get on to the thorny issue of the most popular art term within wedding photography and that’s ‘fine art wedding photography.’ So let’s look at that for a bit. What does that mean? Does anyone really know or is it just a useful marketing term to catch a certain kind of client? And if it is a useful marketing term that’s not necessarily wrong. This is a business after all and we all need a good effective method of finding our clients. I’m just saying if the term art is going to be used, shouldn’t we at least engage with it in those terms and ask a few questions of it?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘fine art’ as: Creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative aesthetic or intellectual content.
Type ‘fine art wedding photography’ into Google or Instagram and you’ll get a lot of results, but do you get art? Do you get an imaginative aesthetic? Do you get intellectual content? Because what you do get is a lot of very safe, bland, pretty images of brides sitting in grand mansion rooms lit by expensively draped windows with their impossibly long flowing weddings dresses carefully fanned out around them in ‘artistic’ black and white; or else you get the soul-deadeningly uniform images of pretty brides backlit by a setting sun in soft warm washed-out pastels. Again, is this art or just a useful marketing device aimed at people who want to feel like they’re getting art without engaging with what any of that actually means? I suppose it’s art if you think Jack Vettriano’s paintings are art — and a lot of people do. But if it is, if fine art wedding photography is art, it’s incredibly safe, cloyingly bland, middle class art. Grayson Perry, in his series on class, described the Middle Class taste as a taste desperate to fit in and seeking the safe validation of its peers — and if that doesn’t double as a neat description of fine art wedding photography I don’t know what does. It’s safe, it’s pretty, it doesn’t rock the boat. But equally that means it doesn’t challenge, it doesn’t innovate, it doesn’t divide opinion or get people talking. I don’t think I’d have such an issue with that if it wasn’t the one single unchallenged prevailing aesthetic within wedding photography applying the term ‘art.’ There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a beautiful picture from your wedding day up on your wall. But why is that the only reference point for art in wedding photography? What about images informed by Diane Arbus or Juergen Teller? And if you’re going to pose people why not pose them in some enigmatic tableaux ala Gregory Crewdson, or the heightened surburbanism of Larry Sultan, or even the faked street hustlers of Jeff Wall or the Hitchcockian melodrama of Alex Prager? C’mon people. We’re photographers, we’re artists, let’s engage with what that really means.
Technical details for the photography wonks:
Camera: Canon 5D MKIII
Lens: Canon 24-70mm 2.8 at 24mm
Shutter speed: 1/200
Flash: Fired in manual mode
Photography influence: William Klein